ADHD and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

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The ADA and ADHD

Recently the staff at the ADHD Information Library at newideas.net was asked if children with ADHD were protected under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. This parent wrote that if in fact ADHD was included in the Disabilities Act, then perhaps her child was “being discriminated against." ADHD and Americans with Disabilities Act

The answer to the question is somewhat long and complicated. So we will begin with writing that while someone with ADHD may qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, not everyone with the diagnosis of ADHD will qualify. And that may include you or your child.

Certainly parents want the very best for their children. And people tend to want everything that they feel that they are “entitled” to from the government. But sometimes we can expect too much from our public agencies, and sometimes we look to the wrong places for help. So let's examine the issue in detail.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was established by Congress in 1990. The purpose of the Act is to end discrimination against persons with disabilities when it comes to housing, education, public transportation, recreation, health services, voting, and access to public services. It also aims to provide equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The ADA was written to offer protections to individuals with disabilities, not individuals with any particular diagnosis. The Americans with Disabilities Act seeks to protect individuals with significant impairments in function.

Since Congress enacted the ADA courts have had several challenges in defining the scope of the Act.

  • What exactly is a disability?
  • Who would be defined as having a disability?
  • Is having a diagnosis the same as having a disability?

These are some of the questions that the courts have had to wrestle with, not to mention the questions related to how schools, work places, public transportation agencies, and more, are to implement the Act in daily operations with both employees and customers.

By the way, it is estimated that the population of the United States is over 300 million persons. And it is estimate that about 19% of persons have some type of long-lasting condition or disability. That would be somewhere near 60 million persons. This includes about 3.5% with a sensory disability involving sight or hearing, about 8% with a condition that limits basic physical activities such as walking or lifting. It also includes millions of people with mental, emotional, or cognitive impairments. See the details in the Census 2000 Brief titled, "Disability Status 2000" at http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/c2kbr-17.pdf

So, to the Question: Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity – ADHD – included in the ADA?

The answer is “Yes, No, or Maybe.”

The ADA defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits
one or more “major life activities,” such as walking, seeing, hearing, or learning. Having a
diagnosed impairment, such as ADHD, does not necessarily mean that an individual is disabled within the meaning of the ADA.

The ADA does provide for "mental" conditions or mental illnesses, and potentially ADHD fits in this category. But as with physical impairments, the diagnosis of a mental illness or mental impairment such as ADHD is not sufficient by itself to qualify for protection under ADA. Again, having a “diagnosis” is not the same as having a “disability.”

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